Institutional Violence in Human Services


Over the years, human services professionals have been subjected to institutional violence. Usually, institutional violence is conducted systematically. Organizations or institutions are used to cause harm to professionals. Therefore, professionals are disadvantaged and find it hard to grow or develop under strict institutional policies or rules. There are several instances where caseworkers, drug and alcohol counselors, and behavioral management aide are subjected to violent behaviors. Human services professionals work in environments where social problems thrive as a norm (Ashford & LeCroy, 2009). For example, a professional may work in a war zone, therefore, risking his or her life. In other instances, human services professionals risk being victims of violence from drug addicts, rapists, murderers, and people with mental problems (Flora & Keohane, 2013). Therefore, it is important to educate and train professionals as a way of intervening against the problem. Importantly, understanding issues associated with the problem is critical.

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Precipitating factors

Drug abuse

In recent years, the abuse of drugs and other substances has increased. Therefore, it is a challenge for human services professionals to deal with drunk clients. Seemingly, the abuse of drugs and substances causes people to become aggressive and impulsive (James & Gilliland, 2012). The likelihood of clients becoming violent during counseling and rehabilitation sessions is common.

Mental illness

From a psychological perspective, it has been proven that some mentally ill patients result in violence. Patients with mental illness display signs of violent fantasies especially among serial rapists and murderers (James & Gilliland, 2012). In addition, there is a likelihood that violent behavior may be precipitated by delusions and hallucinations. If a client has personality disorders, human services professionals risk being victims of violence. Obviously, people with personality disorders may display antisocial antics, especially in hospitals and prisons.


In recent years, caring for clients or patients with social and psychological problems has been deinstitutionalized. Therefore, follow-up care is not conducted effectively by human services professionals (James & Gilliland, 2012). From this perspective, clients relapse to previous conditions.


Human services professionals work in areas with gang violence. Example of such areas include prisons, slums, emergency rooms, and juvenile detention centers. Gang members in such living conditions are violent and display the behavior as a normal practice.

Institutional culpability

Human services professionals working in institutions that are easily accessible (James & Gilliland, 2012). Therefore, the unrestricted movement exposes the professionals to danger. Usually, violent people including gang members, mentally unstable students, and drug addicts can access the professionals with ease. The reasons leading to institutional culpability is because some are schools and counseling centers. Denial is another reason leading to institutional culpability.

Staff culpability

Human services workers are well-intended professionals, and therefore, are culpable to violence (James & Gilliland, 2012). Many clients react violently when provoked by other people. From the professionals’ perspective, it is unlikely that one would provoke the client. Such practices are unethical and attract punitive measures. Usually, clients want to exercise control over the engagement with professionals. However, this happens when professionals’ interact with the clients within a controlled environment such as a mental hospital and prison. Therefore, clients may unleash violence on professionals as a way of relieving frustrations and lack of control.

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Legal liability

Human services workers are legally liable of any action under their jurisdiction. Human services professionals are an easy target of violence since the perpetrators can claim negligence from healthcare institution or workers (James & Gilliland, 2012). For example, a violent patient may assert the behavior is because of poor diagnose and treatment.

Nine-stage model of intervention

According to Piercy (1984), the nine-stage model of intervention is necessary in setting up an effective education and training program for violence-prone humans services professionals.

  • Step 1. Establishing constructive relationship: This phase entail learning how to listen, respect and understand the client as a way of improving the professional-client relationship.
  • Step 2. Encourage expressions: Professionals use this phase to encourage clients express emotions. From the emotions, the professional understands and empathizes with the client’s situation.
  • Step 3. Precipitating event: Professionals discusses the causes and solutions to problem with the client after establishing a relationship. In this phase, the client is included in decision-making processes.
  • Step 4. Evaluate strengths and needs: The professional assesses the strengths and needs of the client for intervention reasons.
  • Step 5. Dynamic explanation: This phase entails a detailed explanation of the intervention process to the client.
  • Step 6. Restore cognitive functioning: This phase entails involving the family or the client in providing intervention alternatives.
  • Step 7. Plan and implement: This phase involves planning of an intervention strategy. Planning for short and long-term objectives, as well as, actions plans, evaluation and control measures is integral in this strategy.
  • Step 8. Terminate: This phase is realized after achieving the pre-crisis level.
  • Step 9. Follow-up: This phase entails a constant contact with client as a way of monitoring the client’s recovery progress. A close survey of how the client is progressing after the initial intervention is necessary.


Ashford, J & LeCroy, C. (2009). Human behavior in the social environment: A multidimensional perspective. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Flora, R., & Keohane, M. L. (2013). How to work with sex offenders: A handbook for criminal justice, human service, and mental health professionals. New York, NY: Routledge.

James, R & Gilliland, B. (2012). Crisis intervention strategies. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Piercy, D. (1984). Violence: The drug and alcohol patient. In J.T. Turner (Ed.), Violence in the medical care setting: A survival guide (pp 123-152). Rockville, MD: Aspen Systems.

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